Writing is the fun part. Editing is the hard part. Know what the first part is? Planning! What you do before you write is just as important as what you write. Planning a business document and using an outline are valuable tools you should reach for first in your writer’s toolbox.
Why Planning a Business Document Is Important
Effective business communication necessitates using the three C’s: write clearly, concisely, and convincingly. If a business document is poorly written, contains numerous spelling or grammar mistakes, lacks organization, or does not identify the issues, your reader is left with a bad impression. Therefore, to maintain your reputation as a professional, you will need to allow time for planning before you begin writing a business document.
What Planning Involves
Planning takes time—from a few minutes to a few hours depending upon the document size, the amount of detail, and level of importance.
Planning a business document requires you to:
- Clearly define the purpose
- Know your audience
- Outline key points
Stay Focused on the Purpose of the Business Document
Identify your purpose and stay focused. Sure, you may need to bring in additional supporting material to make your point. But the supplemental information should never outshine the primary purpose.
To make your main point stand out, try using these tips:
- Keep the format visually simple (avoid decorative, distracting fonts)
- Immediately identify the issue
- Anticipate and answer any questions your reader may ask
- Provide data, proof, or reasons supporting your main point
- Offer a solution or make a proposal
Check out the following example. Notice how the email identifies the issue (the meeting), anticipates questions (is it mandatory?), provides motivation (it will affect you directly), and gives clear direction of what the reader needs to do (send the memo).
Subject line: Meeting on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m.
I’m emailing you regarding an important meeting coming up next week. This meeting will be held on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m., and all employees are required to be present. I know you are quite busy as head of the Accounting Department and appreciate that the meeting’s timing may not be ideal. However, this meeting will cover a new company-wide initiative that will directly impact your department.
Please send a memo to all employees under your supervision regarding this meeting and stress the need for their attendance. Please let me know when this is done.
I greatly appreciate your assistance in this regard. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions.
Organize Your Business Document
You can exercise your right to have a disorganized closet. You cannot exercise that right when it comes to business writing. Business communication demands an organized approach. If your reader is confused by what you’ve written or don’t know what action you expect them to take, it’s a huge fail.
Therefore, make it a goal to write in an organized, cohesive manner. The sentences and paragraphs should flow naturally, guiding the reader from one topic to the next. Use proper business document formatting. And an excellent exercise to help you organize and present your writing is by using an outline.
Use an Outline
An outline will allow you to think about what you need to say and how to do so in an order that makes sense. Start with your main points. Then add subtopics that support the main point. As you jot these down, you’ll begin to see where you might need to change up the order. Or be prompted to add supplementary information.
Another benefit to using an outline: It forces you to slow down. Writing too fast leads to messy mistakes. An outline makes you hit pause, think slowly about the picture you are trying to paint for your reader, and eliminate the nonessentials.
Here’s an example of a basic outline:
Title: Lock Your Office Door
- All employees need to start locking their office doors at night
- List the reasons why this is needed
- Explain that this is effective immediately
- Discuss new locks to be installed
- New keys to be given out
- What to do if you lose your key
- Conclusion: Commend employees for their support of this new initiative
Don’t Forget to Edit Your Business Document
Your business document is not ready until you’ve proofed it. Read, edit, repeat. Don’t undermine the credibility of your work with typos, punctuation mistakes, and inaccuracies.
Copyeditors use this trick to find any lingering grammatical or typographical errors in the text: Read it aloud in its entirety. And do so at a slow pace. Listen carefully for what sounds off. Maybe you typed lose when you meant to say loose. Or you omitted a word. And you’ll hear when you’ve stated the same point twice in one paragraph.
Writing a professional business document is no easy task. But with proper planning, organizing your thoughts through the use of an outline, and applying the above tips, you can master the art of writing business documents.